Monday, July 15, 2019

Potato growers on front line of climate change

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Crops

Extreme and unpredictable weather – made more frequent by climate change – is putting future supplies of British potatoes at risk, according to a new report.

Drought and extreme heat are blamed for a 20% drop in yield for potatoes in 2018. More than half of all UK farms have been affected by severe flooding or storm in the past decade, the Climate Coalition study suggests.

Smaller potatoes mean the average British chip is 3cm smaller, with some climate change projections suggesting that the UK could lose almost three-quarters of the land area currently well suited for potatoes by 2050s.

More frequent and severe heatwaves and flooding caused by the changing climate is posing a threat to British fruit and vegetable production, says the report. Last summer’s heatwave was made about 30 times more likely by climate change, according to the Met Office.

The damaging impact of climatic extremes could make British-grown potatoes and other fruit and vegetables harder to come by for shoppers, with more than half of UK farms saying they have been affected by a severe climatic event, such as flooding, in the past 10 years.

Challenging year

NFU head of horticulture Lee Abbey said: “A lot of growers will have come out of this year with sore heads and not much income. Farmers and growers are used to dealing with fluctuations in the weather but if we have two or three extreme years in a row it has the potential to put growers out of business.”

Potato yields were down on average 20% in England and Wales in 2018 compared to the previous season. Carrots yields (reportedly down 25-30%) and onions (down 40%) were also hampered by warmer than average temperatures.

Staffordshire potato grower Richard Thompson said: “Yields were down 20-25% in 2018. We also had quality issues with a lot of misshapen and small potatoes. I’ll be reducing my acreage next year because I can’t afford to take the risk of planting more potatoes.”

Big losses

The report draws on research by the Priestley International Centre for Climate. It says the UK can expect more frequent extreme weather events – including longer-lasting and more intense heatwaves – and a one-in-three chance of record-breaking rainfall in some areas each winter.

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